The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Revisiting Brown Using Common Sense

By Dennis Byrne

"The premise is laid for the resegregation of America and the denial of opportunity. ... Inheritance and access will not be counterbalanced by equal protection." - the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the Supreme Court decision that race alone cannot be used to assign students to schools.

Oh, baloney. It does nothing of the sort, and Jackson knows it. So do the ideologues that are piling on the court's 5-to-4 majority with veiled predictions of a return to the days of Jim Crow and the intentional legal discrimination against African-Americans. According to these doomsayers, the landmark case, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, which banned racial segregation in schools, has been knifed. Hooded cross-burners to follow.

If anything, the Court's decision voiding racial assignment plans in Louisville and Seattle affirms and polishes Brown by extending the equal protection provisions of the Constitution's 14th Amendment beyond minorities, to everyone, including white students. The clarification was long in coming.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Waxman’s truth

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

Yes sir, you can depend on Rep. Henry Waxman to get to the bottom of things. The California Democrat has his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sniffing around Vice President Richard Chaney’s office for proof that liberal hatred of the man is warranted.

So, appearing Wednesday night on the PBS Newshour, Waxman was discoursing on Chaney’s supposed disregarded of the law, when he dropped this on the viewers:

Now, the truth of the matter is that we've had leaks from this vice president's office, including most recently the leak of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame Wilson, by Scooter Libby [Cheney’s former chief of staff].

Actually, “the truth of the matter” is that the original leak came—as every news report in the country noted—not from Libby, but from Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Libby was convicted, someone needs to remind Waxman, of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators—all serious enough.

Read more at Political Mavens

Monday, June 25, 2007

Children at glorious play

Planning, organizing doesn't leave much room for fun exploration

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The music freed the children to dance.

Scores happily spun into freewheeling exhilaration -- twirling, jumping, somersaulting, cartwheeling, silly stepping and rolling about in the grass. Others were zooming in and out under the tall oaks, back where the adults sat, reserved, listening to the music of the County Sky Band. Among them, a few toes tapped out the beat.

The scene -- a live music concert in a suburban village green -- was of children in the throes of spontaneous play. Unplanned. Unscripted. Unrehearsed. They were toddlers, preschoolers and preadolescents, but none older. If you wanted to know when we lose our inhibitions, you had only to ask the age of the oldest frolicking child on the village green that pleasant evening last week.

The scene is repeated here, and elsewhere I'm sure, for weeks during the summer. Last week it was the music of Shirley King, daughter of famed blues singer B.B. King, that set the children dancing. And in the following weeks, it will be '50s, big band and more. The children don't care; they'll frolic to it all. They danced for an hour and a half, stopping only when parents decided "it's time to go," or, finally, when the concert ended. They were as inexhaustible as they were inspiring and comforting -- by showing that children still could be children.

How glad I was that children still could discover spontaneity. On their own. Without a "program" carefully tended by staff or volunteers. Without some Institute for Fostering Impulses in Childhood showing up and instructing the children. They instinctively knew what to do and how to do it.

My only fear, sitting there, listening and watching, was that some adult, well-meaning of course, would rise from his chair and go over to try to organize the children. "OK, you guys over here will twirl," he'd say, separating them into groups, "and the rest of you will whirl." No one, to my knowledge, came by to check if it was "quality play."

This is not a knock on the countless classes and organized activities that enrich the lives of millions of children. I grew up when and where there were none, and it would have been nice to have a few around. There are valuable things to learn in an organized setting: how to cooperate and how to compete, how to get along and how to stick up for yourself.

This, rather, is for the benefit of children who have no room for spontaneity in their lives; whose every waking moment is scheduled; who have no idea what unstructured play is; and whose constant companions are electronic gizmos or the playmates in a shared, organized activity.

Psychologist David Elkind, author of "The Hurried Child" and "The Power of Play," sticks up for those deprived children by lamenting the absence in their lives of self-initiated play. Elkind blames not a lack of imagination on the part of the children, but "parent angst" about preparing their children for, well, everything.

For some parents, self-guided childhood exploration can be a scary thing. For children, too. But it's part of growing up. It fosters creativity, as anyone whose mother berated him for being a "stick-in-the-mud" and sent him out to play knows. When we were growing up in the city, that meant finding something to do out back in the alley or deploying to the empty corner lot to play war in the remnants of the victory garden. Later in the suburbs, it meant finding something to do down by the creek or getting lost in one of the disappearing fields of tall corn. By today's standards, a lot of what we found to do would be considered illegal or -- worse -- "inappropriate." That's sad.

It also fosters independence, as in "figure it out for yourself." It fosters imagination and courage, as in creating heroic scenarios in which you, say, come to the rescue of (can I say it?) settlers surrounded by Geronimo's braves in war paint. It fosters what today would be called "negotiating skills," by learning to make and keep friends on your own and playing together without supervision. It fosters a sense of consequences, by taking dumb risks and figuring out how to extricate yourself from their results. Or getting stung for them.

It fosters separation from parents, and for some, that might be the scariest thing of all. It shouldn't be. It's the best way to grow up.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Who's the meanest of them all?

By Dennis Byrne

Political Mavens

It didn’t take Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist, much imagination to create this cruel slander:

It depicts President George W. Bush as a beach lifeguard, peering through binoculars from his “embryo guard” stand. Out in the surf are three drowning people, one calling out, “I have cancer!” another, “Help, I have Alzheimer’s!” and the third, “Help, I have Parkinson’s!” Bush is on his cell phone telling someone, “All quiet here.”

It’s a mediocre effort as far as editorial cartoons go, something that you can expect when it’s based on the kind of ignorance that Rogers puts on display. But what really stands out is the cartoon’s “mean-spiritedness,” a vice the political left often ascribes to Republicans and Conservatives, because they supposedly hate such concepts as civil rights and equality and such people as immigrants, minorities, and impoverish. The people who hate Bush are, we’re supposed to believe, noble, caring and compassionate, never uttering a mean word.

Read more at Political Mavens.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who's Todd Stroger?

What's that you say? Cook County Board President Todd Stroger snuck out of his office for prostate cancer surgery without telling the public?

It has created quite a tempest in Chicago, about whether the head of a multi-billion-dollar agency governing one of largest counties in the nation owes it to the public to disclose his illness. My only question:

Why does it matter?

Todd Stroger's alleged guardianship of Cook County government has been a joke. A public health care system "in crisis," a huge budget deficit, a bloated payroll openly larded with his relatives in high-paying jobs and with party loyalists. Pathetically, the doctors at his own county hospital--the one named after his father, John--said he ought to go to another hospital for an operation that even a Stroger spokeswoman called "routine."

It doesn't matter if Stroger is at his desk or not. Cynics might even say that the county is better off with him not present.

Everyone wishes him well, knowing--even if Stroger himself and his staff are unwilling to publicly acknowledge--that cancer of any form is a serious matter. And certainly one that requires an elected official to disclose it.

Stroger's attempt to get away with acting as if he has no accountability to his constituents is deplorable. But more deplorable are the Democrats who sheep-like put an obvious incompetent like Stroger in office. They would have elected Dora the Explorer if she was running on the Democratic ticket.

Monday, June 18, 2007

City congestion takes toll on common sense

Instead of forcing the public to pay for downtown's density dilemma, maybe Chicago should stop bribing businesses to set up shop there

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

There's something appealing about taxing cars and trucks that traverse the Loop, as Ald. Edward Burke (14th) suggests: It would tap suburban and other drivers who supposedly don't pay for those city streets.

It would satisfy Chicagoans who believe suburbanites are moochers, enjoying the city's benefits and amenities without paying for them. Burke himself suggested as much when he pointed out that suburbanites don't pay for the city's vehicle sticker.

If nicking suburbanites for the costs of clogged downtown streets is the real purpose of Burke's proposed ordinance, why not go all the way: Impose a whopping toll or fine only on anyone who drives into downtown without a City of Chicago sticker? That way Burke would get the huge revenue stream he wants for the money-sucking CTA, and Chicagoans themselves would get to enjoy a less congested downtown, without having to pay a toll. Except that such a scheme probably would be illegal, because (A) public streets by law are equally public, and (B) the taxes of every motorist in Illinois help pay for city streets.

But there's something appealing about a downtown vehicle toll: The people -- whether Chicagoans or suburbanites -- who are creating the problems (congestion, pollution) would be paying for the privilege. It's not dumping the costs of those streets on the rest of us who infrequently or never drive downtown. It's the same idea as the Illinois toll roads: The folks who use them have to cough up.

Of course, downtown interests fear that a downtown toll could hurt their businesses. For them, congestion isn't such a bad thing. In fact, when you think about it, what's so bad about downtown the way it is? Downtown, with its attractiveness and vitality, eclipses just about any other big-city downtown in America. In fact, the hustle and bustle is part of the attraction of downtown. Remember what State Street was like when it became a mall? There were no cars on it, and few shoppers. So, perhaps we should just learn to live with the congestion, as most people have.

Maybe a vehicle congestion tax isn't such a good idea after all. If congestion is the real problem with downtown, then maybe we should rethink what downtowns should look like.

Today's downtown is a hand-me-down from the late 19th Century, when technology forced people into more face-to-face communications. You could use the telegraph (assuming you wanted to wait for the messenger) or a novelty called a telephone, which wasn't so grand because the person you wanted to speak with didn't always have one. Sellers, buyers, suppliers, traders, lawyers, clerks -- they all had to communicate with each other, and that meant they had to be near each other, if not face-to-face. Also, people couldn't commute long distances; they could live no farther than the end of the horse-drawn streetcar line. Thus, skyscrapers and high downtown densities.

But those densities might be obsolete thanks to the telecommunications revolution. You can go through an entire day at the office without actually seeing a seller, buyer, supplier, trader or lawyer. It's why Sears could move its giant merchandise group out, over the horizon, to Hoffman Estates. It's as if congestion is the price we pay so some people can "do lunch" together.

So, it is fair to ask, why does government continue to subsidize these densities? The subsidies flow in the form of tax-increment financing districts, direct grants, huge mass transit subsidies and the likes of Block 37 -- the city's long-delayed attempt to play developer. The costs of TIFs fall on other government units, such as schools, and neighborhoods that long are denied the increased tax revenues that they otherwise would receive from the properties.

Yes, the subsidies bring jobs and the prestige of corporate headquarters. But they also bring the supposedly dreaded congestion.

If the goal of the tax is a less congested downtown, maybe we should stop trying so hard to lure more businesses there with big pots of money. Let the chips fall; let businesses pick locations that conform to the economics of a modern telecommunications society.

Sure, we would lose businesses that we had to bribe to locate downtown. But then government wouldn't need to impose a tax to help solve a problem it helped to create. And maybe we wouldn't be arguing about doing silly things, such as imposing a downtown vehicle toll.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Do It Yourself Sopranos

By Dennis Byrne

After a brilliant run, Sopranos creator David Chase dropped from exhaustion at the finish line.

The non-ending ending, in which nothing about the major characters is resolved, was quickly praised after the HBO’s acclaimed series ended Sunday night as brilliant and triumphant.

The praise is as deserving as cheers for the emperor who paraded around sans clothes. It’s as if Chase ran out of ideas, threw up his hands and told his viewers to “take it from here.” We could understand exhaustion as an explanation; the series was one of television’s most masterful.

But many reviewers indeed took it from there, hailing the ending’s ambiguity as a metaphor for, well, everything in life. As if there’s something creative about concluding that “life goes on.” Or not.

We already know that, from our own mundane, drab lives, and so we turn to the lamp keepers of the imagination—writers, artists, performers, producers—to fill in the blanks. Chase had done the job wonderfully and consistently over the years, so we expected much.

Just like other great epics and works of art, skillful endings often are what have made great works of art deserving the honorific, “classic.” Without the final movement, Ode to Joy, Beethoven’s Ninth would be merely great symphony instead of the masterpiece it is. I seem to recall that Shakespeare’s great plays had endings. Movies, books—most have endings too.


No place for politics in stem cell science

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Just as lawmakers around the nation, including Illinois, were rushing to spend millions of your tax dollars to kill human embryos for stem-cell research, they were undercut by some inconvenient and untimely news:

Scientists may have found a better way to create the immature, pluripotent stem cells that, by growing into healthy tissue to replace diseased cells, promise great advances in treating or curing some major human diseases.

As the Washington Post put it: "Three teams of scientists said ... they had coaxed ordinary mouse skin cells to become what are effectively embryonic stem cells without creating or destroying embryos in the process -- an advance that, if it works with human cells, could revolutionize stem-cell research and quench one of the hottest bioethical controversies of the decade." Much work remains to be done before scientists can conclude that it will work with humans, but it bolsters the argument that there are more ethically pristine ways of creating stem cells without killing embryos.

Significant numbers of scientists believe that the less controversial route to creating stem cells is possible, but their voices have been drowned out by politicians who would have it that if you're opposed to embryonic stem cell research, you're a "right-wing nut" who opposes all stem cell research.

Sadly, the new stem cell discoveries are not likely to slow this runaway train. The House last week and the Senate earlier passed legislation that would expand federal embryonic stem cell funding, but President Bush has promised a veto and a congressional override is in doubt.

In Illinois, the legislature has approved funding, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich has promised to sign it. Democrats will see no reason to hold off on the propaganda blitz in favor of ESC, seeing as how its more extreme proponents have bamboozled the public into believing that the only way to create effective stem cells is through ESC research.

Successful uses of adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells in various therapies are too numerous to recount here. It only needs to be said that ESC has not yet produced a single success, while non-ESC research has. Politics and ideological opportunism explain much (but certainly not all) of the insistence on federal funding of ESC research (even though there is no federal ban on private or state ESC funding.) Politics because too many people want to prove that Bush and persons concerned about the ethical implications of ESC would rather have people suffer and die. Ideology because they need to dump on the argument that human personhood begins at conception. (There's no argument that human life begins at conception; the argument is over when a human life becomes a person, endowed with human-rights protections.) In a word, the argument is about abortion.

ESC proponents will argue that whatever the successes of non-embryonic stem-cell research, such as that announced last week, it should not preclude embryonic research. The logic -- which is appealing -- is to proceed on all fronts and let the best technology win.

That, however, suggests that science has no room for ethical considerations. The consequence of accepting that premise is appalling; it would permanently end any discussion about the ethics of cloning, Josef Mengele's horrific experiments on Holocaust victims and all nuclear weapons research.

Understand what I'm saying before you reach for your keyboard: The science is unsettled about whether non-ESC research is as promising as or superior to the embryonic kind. But at this stage, the research tends to favor the non-ESC kind, in terms of proven advances and practicality. In these circumstances, it makes more sense to invest in the path that is less fraught with the kind of moral battles that tear at our fabric. Unless, you're more interested in scoring political points.

I'm also trying to say something more: The politicalization of science by the left to further its political goals ought to end. We've seen it with global warming (the science on whether we're causing it is not settled), the link between abortion and breast cancer (competent studies do show a possible relationship), and assertions that the over-the-counter Plan B contraceptive has no impact on the sexual behavior of young adolescents is without the support of a valid study.

Most of the public is illiterate enough when it comes to science. To compound it by twisting science for political purposes doesn't help.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Scary thought: Al Gore could be in charge

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If Al Gore had been president ...

President Al Gore today asked the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution of "concern" over the nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq.

"Both countries are perilously close to possessing nuclear weapons," Gore said at a White House press conference. "Nuclear warfare between these two historic enemies would be a tragedy for everyone."

President Gore requested the resolution after the countries' two dictators, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, renewed threats of annihilation against each other over disputed Persian Gulf territory. Two decades ago, the two nations fought a prolonged war involving the use of chemical weapons over dominance of the strategically important gulf region, and both nations years ago dropped any pretense that their nuclear programs had peaceful purposes.

Gore said former President Jimmy Carter, who now is Gore's UN ambassador, would present new, softer language than what's contained in the 14 previously rejected resolutions proposed by the United States. Gore indicated that the resolution would drop a U.S. request for a multinational summit of Middle East nations and instead seek mediation by the International Anger Management Institute.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, said in response, "Great, just what we need, another futile request for a feeble declaration from an international body incapable of agreeing on the time of day. Ever since 9/11, the Gore administration's toothless foreign policy has led to more attacks by Islamic terrorists, killing thousands more Americans on our own soil and worsening the sectarian violence in the Middle East.

"All because no one seems capable of saying, 'Enough.' "

Gore has persistently argued that only multilateral talks involving the European community and all Muslim countries can settle the growing conflicts that threaten to drastically reduce the amount of crude oil available to a worsening American economy. Because of the uncertainty of supplies from the region, mandated caps imposed on U.S. off-shore oil fields, a moratorium on all domestic crude oil exploration and new production, and the crippling of domestic refining capabilities by a host of new government regulations, the nation now finds itself in the grip of an unprecedented energy crisis, with average gasoline prices soaring to a near-record $8.35 a gallon. As unemployment climbed to 9.3 percent -- the highest since the early 1980s -- and energy-driven inflation has bounded to 9.1 percent -- reminiscent of the "stagflation" that characterized Carter's presidency -- Gore's presidential approval ratings have hit a rock-bottom 25 percent.

Despite the dire economy, Gore renewed his threat to veto any legislation that would lessen costly measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as required by the Kyoto treaty. "This will be seen by our allies as a betrayal, and tarnish America's good name worldwide," Gore said. The president sidestepped repeated questions about why America should carry the burden, even though no European nation has met carbon dioxide emission standards, and China and India, which have leapfrogged America as the world's leading polluters, have not attempted to control their emissions.

Gore also threatened to veto the so-called USA Patriot Act, proposed legislation that would strengthen America's intelligence-gathering capabilities. A bipartisan coalition crafted the legislation in the wake of repeated terrorist attacks on American cities, including the horrific use of hijacked airplanes to destroy the Capitol and Chicago's Sears Tower. One of the most important features of the Patriot Act would be the interception of communications between domestic terrorists and Al Qaeda operatives operating freely in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In other matters, Gore:

*Said he would present a "comprehensive" proposal to deal with the genocide in Darfur "at the appropriate time." He specifically ruled out the use of force because "it wouldn't look good." Besides, "we can handle only one genocide at a time," referring to Hussein's continued slaughter of Kurds and Shiites.

*Warned against any Israeli attempts to use force to stop Iraq and Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "Israel must understand that force would doom hopes for a multinational summit to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian-Lebanese-Syrian war. The American people want a realistic foreign policy, one that rejects the use of force in any form," he said.

*Said he would not comment on a newly published book, "An Assault on Reason," by his defeated 2000 and 2004 presidential opponent George W. Bush in which Bush assailed the Gore presidency as "the worst in history." Gore, however, cracked a smile when a reporter reminded him that Bush said the book was not "political."